4016 Wilshire Boulevard

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The 4000 block of Wilshire—still fairly low-rise and actually sparse between tall office building districts to the east and residential neighborhoods just to the west—contains one of the last holdouts of the residential boulevard. Given its verticality and the description of its interior, one might wonder if the house was the remodeling of an older building moved to the lot from an easterly or southeasterly neighborhood, from which residence moving to newer precincts was not unusual in the 1910s and up to the Depression. Indeed, romantic lore of the family that moved into it in the mid-'20s has it that the house was moved west from Bunker Hill by its progenitor, attorney Elmer J. Neville; however, even if it had been relocated, not only would the original terrain of that downtown neighborhood have made such a move difficult, even in pieces, city records indicate that 4016 was new construction built before the ownership of the Nevilles.

It might seem odd that a new house would have been built as near in time to the "fall" of residential Wilshire as 4016 actually was, but if anything, only the faintest bat-squeak of the boulevard's commercial future was being heard in 1917, and that far to the east. Perhaps not even the saaviest of investors could have anticipated that trade would ever come out along Wilshire as far as Norton Avenue, and so quickly. On November 24, 1917, the Department of Buildings issued permits for a 10-room, 35-by-58-foot house and a garage at 4016, on Lot 4 of Block 1 of the Norton Place tract; the subdivision had opened in 1905, although its Wilshire-fronting lots had been slow to sell. A curious name appears on the permits as the owner of the lot, that of one Elizabeth Brockhage. Though she gave her address in the permit information as the downtown office of real estate investor George Vandeveer Kirkwood, Brockhage was living at the time on Ingraham Street and working there as a maid, as she had been since arriving from St. Louis several years before. Kirkwood had been born to wealth in St. Louis; what, if any, Midwest connection there may have been between him and Miss Brockhage and how a domestic servant might have figured into the investment plans of Kirkwood is unclear. As it turns out, less than five years after the completion of 4016 in 1918, a series of auction ads in the Times included the come-on that "This property will double in value in ten years or less. The city planning commission has already mapped out improvements for Wilshire Boulevard that will make it the finest boulevard in the country." Not mentioned but implicit was that the trend was commercial, not residential.


As seen in the Los Angeles Times of December 10, 1922, and today


And yet, 90 years later, 4016 Wilshire still stands, and even more remarkably, without a sidewalk-fronting façade containing businesses, as do some remaining boulevard houses such as 2976 and 3944. According to county records, the house's official use is residential, even if over the years it has been listed in directories as the address of various commercial interests as well. In 1956 alone, in addition to a resident by the name of Mildred Manning in an apartment on the second floor, real estate man Jackson Diggs maintained offices in the house, as he had since at least 1938; an insurance concern and at least one other business were also listed in the building in the '56 city directory. Another remarkable curiosity is that 4016 appears to still be in the hands of the family that bought it around 1925, and, county records indicate, may have been who remodeled it that year to give us its current visage. The Neville Family Trust might have done better with a house farther east on Wilshire, but, given the rapid highrise Shanghaization of Los Angeles, its day will no doubt come.


Clear-eyed attorney Elmer James Neville
bought 4016 Wilshire circa 1925; the
Omaha native's family still owns it.


As described both in the 1922 auction advertisements and recent real estate data, the 3,300-square-foot house has six bedrooms and three baths. The ads describe a den on the third floor in the short tower. An interior of solid mahogany of the best materials is mentioned, sounding more turn-of-the-century than postwar. While Elizabeth Brockhage and/or George Kirkwood may have built it, neither occupied 4016; it was railroad man (and before that, oil and grain man) John M. Neeland and his wife Katherine who were living in the house by at least 1921. The circumstances that prompted the auction are not known, though ads refer to the owner as wishing to return to Canada, which is where Neeland had come from in the previous century. He and his wife were still in Los Angeles in 1930, however, living on Buckingham Road in exclusive, and distinctly noncommercial, Lafayette Square. After E. J. Neville and his wife Clara moved into 4016 circa 1925, it appears that the onset of the Depression, as well as the roar of wildly increasing traffic and the lack of a neighborhood feel, may have impressed upon them the wisdom of moving out of 4016 sometime after 1932 and taking advantage of the boulevard's new commercial zoning by renting it out. 

While there are a few other original houses tucked away on the boulevard, none are in as apparent fine shape as 4016. How long will it last?


While the house at 4016 Wilshire has escaped the ignominy of a tacked-on commercial
façade for over 95 years, it has had uses other than residential since the 1930s and
has long since given up any illusions of being part of a residential neighborhood.
In this late '30s view, a sign, most likely for a real estate concern, can
be seen over 
its front windows, at left. A Union 76 oil billboard sits
between the house and the Van-Shire Florist occupying
a taxpayer structure built flush to the sidewalk.




Above: Highrise districts are behind you to the east; beyond the
lowrise streetscape ahead are the Miracle Mile and Beverly Hills and the
towering condos of Westwood. Below: The original construction permit for
4016 issued by the Department of Buildings on November 24, 1917.





Illustrations: LAT; AncestryGoogle Street View;